Northern Ireland

UVF posters appear in east Belfast as tensions continue to simmer

UVF posters have appeared in east Belfast
UVF posters have appeared in east Belfast

UVF posters warning against drug dealing have appeared in east Belfast as tensions between rival factions continue to simmer.

The posters, headed with the words ‘Ulster Volunteer Force’ and including the paramilitary group’s distinctive crest, also urges those who owe money to criminals not to pay it back.

The poster includes the words “do not lend money” and urges anyone with information about drug dealing they should report it to their local political representatives.

A similar poster put up in the Newtownards Road area warns carries the warning “do not lend money”.

The posters have been circulated after the UVF’s leadership in east Belfast was stood down, including its alleged former commander Stephen ‘Mackers’ Matthews.

Matthews denies any link to either criminality or the UVF.

The UVF’s east Belfast unit has in the past been linked to drug dealing and other criminality, including murder.

It is understood the posters may have been put up by UVF’s new command, which is aligned to the organisation’s Shankill Road leadership.

Ongoing hostilities were reflected in a social media post last month ahead of a commemoration for two UVF men killed in a premature bomb explosion almost 50 years ago.

The event was organised to remember Joe Long (33) and James Cordner (23) who died after a bomb they were carrying exploded at Corporation Street in Belfast in February 1977.

In a statement, Action for Community Transformation (ACT) Initiative (Central) urged loyalists not to attend the event, which has been organised by the rival East Belfast ACT Initiative.

In its post the ACT Initiative (central) said its rival East Belfast grouping has “no association” with the “regional” initiative.

The ACT charity, which was founded “to facilitate the civilianisation” of the UVF, gained charitable status in 2012.

Dr Aaron Edwards
Dr Aaron Edwards

Dr Aaron Edwards, a leading expert on loyalism and author of ‘UVF: Behind the Mask’, was the first to report that the organisation’s east Belfast leadership had been deposed last year.

He believes the latest development is evidence of the turning tide in east Belfast.

“It seems they are moving to isolate those friendly with the former east Belfast leadership and from what I am hearing they are panicking,” he said.

“I think we are in a tipping point phase at the moment, where certainly the main leadership on the Shankill, and elsewhere, are just fed up with the way that things have been portrayed in the media.”

“My sense is that the UVF leadership has given assurances to those who are supporting so-called group transition, that they have taken care of the criminals in the ranks.

“But of course, we don’t know to what extent they have weeded out all criminality in all areas.”

UVF posters
UVF posters

SDLP councillor Séamas de Faoite described the appearance of the posters as “sinister”.

“The appearance of these posters at bus stops which are used by the entire community is an extremely sinister and unwelcome development,” he said.

“References to criminality are particularly galling, given the UVF’s position as a proscribed organisation that has terrorised its own community for decades.

“Anyone who has knowledge of criminal activity or exploitation of vulnerable people should report it to the relevant authorities, but people do not need to take any lessons from the UVF when it comes to upholding the law.”

Mr de Faoite added that the posters were intimidating, adding they should be removed.

A spokeswoman for the PSNI said they are investigating the appearance of the posters.